“Neighborhood News” Lessons From Malcolm Gladwell – How “Connectors, Mavens and Salespeople” Can Create the “Tipping Point” in South Sacramento County
By Ron Cooper

Last week, I outlined how we can establish “Neighborhood News Bureaus” by working together with five trusted organizational partners in South Sacramento County. We don’t have to “train” everyone. Instead we can create an “information epidemic” using the Internet as the delivery system. By identifying a few special “connectors and mavens” within each community, developing unique community stories uploaded to a central web site we can cause a “tipping point” for many other folks not currently using the Internet to their advantage. 60% of the general population routinely goes to the Internet as a major source of information. Our primary concern will be the 40% who do not find Internet information relevant to their daily lives.

In summary, we shall reach out to the 40% of the population not currently utilizing the Internet and:
Embrace the ethnic diversity of South Sacramento County’s population,
Identify hyper-local community information vital to these distinct communities,
Create community news items relevant to their daily lives and post daily to a new web site,
Utilize young people from the five partners to create this content and “connect” via he Internet
Identify key information leaders or “mavens” within these communities
Introduce “connectors” to “mavens” and “train” them to work together writing news stories
Utilize their combined tech savvy and community knowledge to fill the “news void” in South Sacramento County
Promote these activities with the help of cell phone and broadband cable “Salespeople”

Let’s use the insights provided by Gladstone to make the Internet more relevant. Let us work together to create and “aggregate” important community news to a central site: www.AccessLocal.tv.

Now back to our story (part 2 of 5). Let’s utilize the online “encyclopedia” (Wikipedia) to define for us the key insights provided in “The Tipping Point”. Here’s a quick summary:

“In his 2006 book “Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell describes the “three rules of epidemics” (or the three “agents of change”) in the tipping points of epidemics.

“The Law of the Few”, or, as Gladwell states, “The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.”[According to Gladwell, economists call this the “80/20 Principle, which is the idea that in any situation roughly 80 percent of the ‘work’ will be done by 20 percent of the participants.”These people are described in the following ways:

“Connectors” are the people who “link us up with the world … people with a special gift for bringing the world together.” They are “a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack [… for] making friends and acquaintances”. He characterizes these individuals as having social networks of over one hundred people. To illustrate, Gladwell cites the following examples: the midnight ride of Paul Revere and the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” trivia game. Gladwell attributes the social success of Connectors to “their ability to span many different worlds [… as] a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy.”

In the world of the “Neighborhood News Bureaus” let’s further define “Connectors” as tech savvy youth (35 and under) who are socially conscious and care about their communities, friends, and families.

“Mavens” are “information specialists”, or “people we rely upon to connect us with new information.” [They accumulate knowledge, especially about the marketplace, and know how to share it with others. Gladwell cites Mark Alpert as a prototypical Maven who is “almost pathologically helpful”, further adding, “he can’t help himself”.In this vein, Alpert himself concedes, “A Maven is someone who wants to solve other people’s problems, generally by solving his own”.According to Gladwell, Mavens start “word-of-mouth epidemics” due to their knowledge, social skills, and ability to communicate. As Gladwell states, “Mavens are really information brokers, sharing and trading what they know”.

In the world of the “Neighborhood News Bureaus” let’s further define “Mavens” as adults (35 and older) who are “beloved” within their communities because of their knowledge network, their deep roots in the community, and the special care they take when offering wisdom and advice to others.

“Salespeople” are “persuaders”, charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, which makes others want to agree with them.

In the world of the “Neighborhood News Bureaus” let’s further define “Salespeople” as cell phone and broadband companies eager to engage (sell) the 40% of the current population still not utilizing the Internet and cell phone technology to their full advantages making good use of the “mini-computers and cameras in our pockets”.

The Stickiness Factor, the specific content of a message that renders its impact memorable. Popular children’s television programs such as Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues pioneered the properties of the stickiness factor, thus enhancing the effective retention of the educational content in tandem with its entertainment value.

In the world of the “Neighborhood News Bureaus” let’s further define “Stickiness” as fresh daily, relevant, information supplied to a website about your community, your neighborhood, your friends and family — stories about issues and people that impact your life directly.

The Power of Context: Human behavior is sensitive to and strongly influenced by its environment. As Gladwell says, “Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur.”For example, “zero tolerance” efforts to combat minor crimes such as fare-beating and vandalism on the New York subway led to a decline in more violent crimes city-wide. Gladwell also discusses what he dubs the rule of 150, which states that the optimal number of individuals in a society that someone can have real social relationships with is 150. Military units have understood this principle for centuries. Troops are organized in groups of 150 but no larger. Each soldier knows the others and they look out for each other. (source: Wikipedia)

In the world of the “Neighborhood News Bureaus” let’s further define “The Power of Context” as breaking down the anonymity of our large urban “faceless society” into the smaller communities surrounding our five organizational partners. Within these communities, you have common experiences, language, ethnicity, and family values. Within these smaller communities, it is possible to have “real social relationships” within groups of 150 or less. Neighborhood News should be about your actual neighbors, what they are doing, and how you can be more involved.

Next week, we will discuss how these “Tipping Point” principles align with Access Sacramento’s mission and our twenty-five years of service to Sacramento County residents and organizations.